Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Royal Road to Coincidence: or going to London to see the Queen


My young grandson Jack likes to know where people are and what they are doing. So every day he asks if I am going to work, and will I be travelling by car, train or plane. I don’t have a private Lear Jet, but he is fascinated by the planes he sees flying in the sky. He knows that occasionally I am up there in one, on my way to a different country on behalf of the University. On Tuesday I was due to travel down to London for a Council of Deans Health Executive meeting.

I'm not normally mischievous but when little Jack asked what I was doing I said I was catching a train to London, 'why?' he said, 'to see the Queen' I replied. He seemed satisfied with this and apparently told everyone else he met during the day that I was on a train to see the Queen. I am not sure he really understands who the Queen might be, I strongly suspect in his mind the Queen is akin to the Man who Lives in the Moon, someone Jack also talks a lot about. For him it was enough to know I was travelling on a Royal Road.

I found the Council of Deans of Health meeting interesting and very enlightening. One of the policy advisor's to join us during the day was Andrew Boggs, from the Higher Education Regulation Group. In his softly spoken Canadian accent he carefully took us through the new regulatory landscape for UK University's. This might, to many people, seem a very uninteresting subject, but actually, Andrew brought it to life in a way that was completely the opposite. He also introduced into my lexicon the notion of a Rosetta Stone.

I didn't know what a Rosetta Stone might be, a quick Google later I had one of those 'Ah ha' moments. The Rosetta Stone is an ancient Egyptian granodirite stele inscribed with a decree issued in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V. In this case, the stele was a donation stele, which granted a tax emption to the resident priesthood. Securing the favour of the priesthood in this way was essential for the Ptolemaic kings to retain and effective rule over the people. You might want to come to your own decision about what Andrew was hinting at.

For me, the conversations started a memory train that went back to 2007, when I and a colleague published a paper entitled 'Passive patient or engaged expert? Using a Ptolemaic approach to enhance mental health nurse education and practice' - the paper explored the need to reclaim a patient centred approach to providing mental health nursing care - yes we were possibly ahead of our time. 

And in a strange kind of way, hearing Andrews words, I was also drawn once more to think about the Ptolemaic Dynasty. Ptolemy V personally sponsored the work of the great mathematician Euclid. However like me, he found Euclids seminal work the 'Elements' difficult to understand. Allegedly it's said the Euclid responded to Ptolemy asking him whether there was an easier way to master Euclid's work with: 'Sire there is no Royal Road to Geometry'.

A second 'Ah ha' moment - it was Freud, who described dreams as being the Royal Road to the Unconscious - Freud's work has been very influential in the development of my view of the world. The interpretation of Freud's work by other people has also often captured my imagination. For example, Simon Morris and 78 of his students cut out every word from Freud's 736 page book 'The Interpretation of Dreams' (which including the index ran to some 333,960 words). They scattered all the cut out words from a car travelling at 90 mph and then recorded the subsequent array of words. The resulting analysis, does, in my opinion,  describes a world reminiscent of 'the Man on the Moon, meets the Queen, while driving on the road to London'.